Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fussein, Germany

Before you go to Europe you have to decide on how to get around after you get there.  You can choose to rent a car, or travel by train.  We read several things before we left.  We didn't want to deal with renting a car and dealing with fees, gas prices, and knowing how and where to go to rent a car we could travel from one city to the next and not return it to the same place.  We were also a little scared of driving in Europe.  A train ride seems romantic and you don't have to worry about any of those things.  You can eat and talk to your kids while travelling, you don't have to read road signs, or hyperventilate every time you pay for gas.  We found a much better deal buying our train tickets in the U.S. and reserving a seat on a train was a lot cheaper after we got there.  We bought tickets that were good for anywhere in Belgium, Germany, and France, for 8 days, which did not have to be consecutive days.  We also chose to buy first class tickets, because we were travelling as a family and wanted more space to store our luggage.  In Germany, I'm not sure if First Class was necessary, even there 2nd class cars were really nice, but their first class cars were amazing!  Also a train goes everywhere.  You can go to just about anywhere on a train and use public transportation to get around a city.  If you decided to use a car instead, I highly suggest using a GPS device to guide you!

Our first REAL train ride was kind of exciting and scary.  We thought we did pretty good at figuring out train schedules.  We found a train we wanted to take to Fussein, and boarded the train.  We were comfortable when the ticket person came to check our tickets, and she asked us where we were going (in German).  I told her Fussein, she said, (in English, because apparently my German was SO bad they felt sorry for me), that we had to change trains at a certain stop and we only had 2 minutes to move all our luggage and children to the other train.  That was a bit concerning.  I was worried that one train would be late or early and we would miss the transfer, but trains in Germany are very precise, I could have set my watch to the trains we rode in Germany.  So the real problem was how do you transfer a family of 5, including a 2 month old baby, and all their luggage in 2 minutes?  With the help of that very wonderful ticket lady(/conductor?) who knew we had to transfer and came to our aid!  I think we were on the other train in about 1 minute 30 seconds, so it was all good.  We tried hard to not have a train transfer like that again though.

We originally planned on visiting Fussein during the day, but travelling on to Rothenburg for the night.  For some reason I was uncomfortable leaving all of our stuff in Munich while we went to Fussein, so we hauled all of our luggage with us.  We went to Fussein hoping to put our luggage in lockers there, while we went to Neuchwanstein (the Sleeping Beauty Castle), only to get to Fussein and there were no available lockers.  We were trying to figure out what to do when we saw a sign that said, youth hostel (in German), and had an arrow pointing the way.  You can rent lockers at youth hostels to hold your stuff, so we thought we would just do that.  We started walking, and we kept walking, and walking, and thought, where is this youth hostel?  I asked some people walking by and they indicated that we were going the right direction and it was only a short walk away.  Our 6 year old had to roll one of the suitcases and he really did not like rolling his suitcase on cobblestones, so he started complaining and saying his hand was "bleeding" (It was not bleeding, but it was developing some nice callouses).  I started thinking that we were "insane" and taking your kids to Europe was a new form of torture, and then this really nice man who was riding his bicycle saw us.  He rode by and then circled back and asked if we needed any help.  He asked in German, but when I answered back, he then spoke in English and asked, "Are you American?"  I guess my German was truly awful.  He ended up being from California, and even being an American he could tell from my poor German that I was an American.  He helped us tote all of our stuff the rest of the way to the Youth Hostel which was still over a mile away.  After we got to the Youth Hostel we decided that we were not going to be able to make it to Rothenburg, and so we checked into the Youth Hostel for the night.  We were lucky it was one of the best mishaps of our trip, they were awesome!

We took a bus to Schwangau and went to Neuschwanstein.  I had several Germans tell me that Neuschwanstein was not a "real" castle.  That it was built "later."  To me, who granted I am an American and can be quite ignorant, it seemed real enough.  We also heard that the king was "crazy" and "crazy royalty is often found dead."  I never really understood all that I heard, I think some things were lost in translation, but I did research it later and learned he was considered eccentric and his death was mysterious.  Neuschwanstein was not terribly busy when we were there, it was at the beginning of the tourist season, so there was not too many tourists.  I guess it can get really busy in the middle of tourist season, which is June-August.

To buy your tickets, you have to go there.  I read somewhere that it was confusing to buy tickets, but it did not seem that bad, maybe it gets more confusing with more people.  There are 2 castles you can see, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau and you can buy a ticket for both castles at the same place.  We also took a ride up to the castle, but even with a ride there is still quite a bit of a walk, especially for small children.  A nice thing is that there is a food vendor right by the castle and so we were able to sit and eat ice-cream with the kids to relax.  The food vendor accepted many different forms of currency too, you could tell he was used to tourists, but, at least in the case of American currency, it was a lot cheaper to buy with Euros.  The castle has a rule against photography, but you can get some nice travel books in the gift shop at the end.

Since we were a lot later than we anticipated we knew we would miss the dinner at the Youth Hostel, so we decided to go to dinner in Shwangau.  We had an amazing dinner!  I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was so good!

We went back to the bus stop and we had missed our bus.  There were no more buses that night either, but there was a payphone and a telephone number for a taxi company.  I called the number asked, "sprechen sie English," (Do you speak English) to which I heard the dreaded response, "nein" (no).  All those years of German came in handy.  I was able to tell him where we were,  how many people were in our party, and I ordered a cab in German.  I was so proud of myself!  While we were waiting there another tourist who had missed the bus came and we were able to rescue her too.

Youth Hostels are a great way to travel as a family.  You will get a room to yourself, you won't have to share with anyone but your own family.  It is a room full of bunk beds and our kids really liked choosing which bed they wanted to sleep in each night.  As a family we stayed on the "women's floor," so the boys had to go to the "men's floor" to use the toilet or shower.  You do need to bring your own towels and toiletries.  We were told that we would need a sheetsack to stay at a youth hostel, but we only stayed in youth hostels in Germany and they all provided sheetsacks with the price of our room.  We still used our sheetsacks, it was just nice to have something of our own to use.  Most youth hostels provided dinner and all of them provided breakfast.  The dinner was only served at a certain time, and we usually missed dinner, but even missing dinner the cost was still a great bargain.  Breakfast was a typical European breakfast with meats, cheese, bread, cereals, and yogurt.  We loved it.  The people who check you in at a Youth Hostel usually speak really good English and they know that you are on a budget and will give GREAT recommendations for family friendly places to eat, visit, and how to get around.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Munich, Germany

Before getting to Munich we traveled about 30 hours, we had to travel from one part of the U.S. to another, then to Heathrow Airport in London and finally to Munich.  At the time we had 3 children, my oldest was 6, my daughter was 3 and my 3rd child was 2 months old.  Right before landing at Heathrow my 2 month old blew out his diaper, I had baby poo all down my front and on my shoes.  I tried to clean up as best I could, but I had no clothes to change into in my carry-on.  I had packed at least an extra set of clothes for all of my children in our carry-on, but none for me.  So that was awesome.  We got through security and to Munich without too much hassle.  And then we got to Munich.

I took German all through high school and even at the University level, but it had been years since I spoke German to anyone.  I had brushed up by going through some old text books before we left home.  I was a bit rusty at best!  We were walking around Munich airport trying to figure out where to go or what to do.  We had directions to our hotel and knew that we had to get metro tickets to get there.  My 2 oldest children found a moving sidewalk and promptly threw their stuff down and fell down on the moving sidewalk.  Just picture a family of 5, baby in a carrier on me, 3 suitcases, 4 backpacks, 1 carry on, all in disarray, children lying down on a moving sidewalk, I felt helpless and lost.  My husband was trying to pick up our luggage, and some nice bystanders picked up my kids.  We found the right place to go, the right tickets to purchase, and found the right line for the metro.  We got on the metro, only to be kicked off again, because we got on a train that was being retired for the day.  When we finally got on the right train, going the right way, we got off at our correct stop, and followed  the directions for our "short" walk to our hotel. A short walk to a European is a long walk to an American, and a really LONG walk if that American has 3 kids and all their luggage.  We eventually found our hotel only to find that they had lost our reservation.  Thankfully my husband had a copy of our reservation and our confirmation.  The hotel was very apologetic, they made a reservation at one of their sister hotels and even paid for the cab to take us there.  It had been 6 long hours since I had been pooped on, so first thing I did was shower and change into clean clothes.  Then our adventure really began.

We went out and found that our hotel was right by 2 strip joints, that was interesting.  All the signs were in English, and it wasn't until later that I realized that would be more subtle to a German, but to an American it was very blatant.  My 6 year old son kept asking what SEX was, because that is what the sign said and he was learning how to read, didn't really think it was the best time to have "the talk" so we told him sex is another word for gender, like male or female.  He accepted this and we continued our walk on the other side of the street.

We went to a little Greek restaurant and no one spoke English, so I was able to use my choppy German and order us some food.  I'm so surprised that I did as well as I did.  We ate a pretty good dinner.  We realized on our walk that our hotel, that we had been relocated to, was a short walk to the train station and was a better location than our first hotel.  We also had a lot of fun in the train station, it was pretty big, lots of different things to see.  We took the train to go see the Glochenspiel, that was really impressive.  After the clock put the town to bed we took a nice stroll around Munich.  There was a quartet set up on the street playing classical music, so beautiful, and of course we got ice cream which was so good.  It felt like the day went from being a nightmare to being a dream.  We went to bed that night with happy thoughts and hopes.  Then we all woke up at 3 am, we looked at each other, everyone was hungry, so we ate some food and then went back to sleep.

Our plan for travelling through Germany was to go to a city a day, a bit ambitious for any person, and for a family, near impossible.  With packing up every morning and checking into youth hostels, or hotels every night, a lot of time is simply wasted in moving.  We should have stayed in one hotel for at least 3 days that was centrally located, and then went on day trips from that location.  Then we would have been able to have more time to see everything we wanted to see.  We did not do that, and hindsight is always 20/20.  A nice thing about large train stations in Germany is that there are lockers that you can rent.  Some are lockers we are used to, and some have magic lockers that eat your luggage and give you a claim check that will magically regurgitate your luggage upon request.  If you are changing where you sleep nightly, you can rely on these large train stations to securely hold your luggage while you go to see the sites.  A small train station, like Fussein, can not be relied upon to have the capacity to have enough lockers, or any available lockers, to store your luggage in.  If you are travelling to a smaller city, or going on a day trip and need to store your luggage while you are going about your activities, please store them in the larger facility!

Thursday, March 15, 2012


I love Disneyland, I love Disney.  Every time my children turn 3 we take them to Disneyland.  I know that Disneyland can be intimidating to many families, and a lot of people wait until their children are older and "can enjoy it" before they go.  We decided not to do this, because Disneyland is magic, but the older you get, the less magical it becomes.  We wanted to take our kids when they didn't understand robotics, mechanics, or anything else that would make Disneyland less magical.  We started when my first child was turning 3 and we keep going each time a child turns 3.  If you do go for a birthday, make sure you go to Main Street Courthouse and get a button for your birthday person.

A birthday button will make the day!  Characters and cast members will say happy birthday, at restaurants they will give you special treatment, at the tortilla factory you will get a whole bag of yummy fresh tortillas!  Don't forget to get your birthday button, whether you are turning 3 or 100!

We just went to Disneyland in June 2011 for our third child's third birthday.  We saw our kids run on Tom Sawyer's island and search for the "lost treasure" and when they found the huge mounds of treasure, they tried to pry the coins out of the mounds.  As an adult I knew that it was a large mound of fake coins, treasure, and everything was a prop.  As children, they saw it as real.

Disneyland is not an ordinary amusement park, the rides take you into many beloved movies and stories.  Most of the rides are family friendly.  I am always surprised at how many rides that even babies can go on.  We also take advantage of Child Switch Passes so that we can go on the larger rides as well.  This allows the first adult to go on a ride while the other adult waits with the children that can not go on the ride.  The first adult must wait in the line, but the second adult will take their child switch pass and can bring another person with them to the front of the line and ride almost immediately.  We either use this, or fast passes to go on the bigger rides that the whole family is unable to go on together.

To maximize our Disney experience we try to get to the park as soon as it opens.  For the first couple of hours the lines are not that long, except on rides like Star Tours, Peter Pan, and Toy Story, but things like the Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones have 5-15 minute wait times.  First thing we do is have someone run to Star Tours and get fast passes for everyone, while the rest of us go to Peter Pan and we meet there. We spend 2 hours trying to get to all the rides we like in Fantasyland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, (in that order).  When the lines start getting

long we go to California Adventure.  When California Adventure gets too busy we do things like Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Mark Twain's island, Toon Town, ride the canoes, ride the train around the park, stop for something to eat, go to Jedi Training Academy, or even leave to go take a nap, and take a break.  We may try to do a few rides with fast passes from the hours of 12pm to 4pm, but we mostly just enjoy other aspects of the park.  We eat an early dinner, and then after 6pm we go to the Princess Fantasy Faire, if you go during the parade the lines are almost non existent.  I have one daughter and 3 boys, so waiting in line for princesses is not high on the priority list.  If we go and are in and out no one complains.  Things start to get less crowded and around 8pm the lines start to disappear.  We like to go to Fantasyland late because you can ride all the rides with a minimal wait time.  We leave the park exhausted, and often our children fall asleep waiting for the trams, or in our arms or in the stroller.

If we have a 3 day park hopper we go every other day to Disneyland, and take a day in between to go to the beach, or to Universal Studios, or somewhere else.   If you have a 4 or 5 day park hopper, the second or third day is a good day to break the rules and sleep in, or by the 3rd day you will have what I refer to as Disneyland meltdown: over stimulated, full tantrum mode, unreasonable children who you won't want to admit are yours.  Of course I have only seen this in other people's children, because my children always act like angels.  They never try to cause harm to one another, or lay down in the middle of a road and start screaming, or try to physically hit cast members, or act in a way that makes me worried I will be kicked out of a Disney Park, not MY children.  But if YOUR children act like this, usually by the 3rd day, then make sure you have naps planned into the itinerary!  I have only seen this phenomenon when a family tries to go to Disneyland every day and not planned rest days into their vacation.  Which being the wonderful parents we are, we are much too wise to make this rookie mistake...more than once.

One of my favorite memories is sitting on the benches by Aladdin with 2 sleeping angels and watching my husband and 2 older children go on rides.  It is a good place to be with sleeping children and even better if you have a mint julep to drink and some Mickey Mouse shaped beignets to eat.  At first when I sat down with my two children I was disappointed that I was not riding rides, and then I realized how tired I was and when my husband offered to let me "take a turn" with the older kids, I turned him down.  I sat their people watching and listening to the Disney noise and relaxed.  I simply love Disneyland.

Some tips,

  1.  Fast passes are AWESOME, use them!   
  2. Fast pass at Indiana Jones is not worth it, either go early in the morning or late at night, the fast pass is not very fast for Indiana Jones
  3. Toon Town's fast passes are not connected to the rest of the park, so you can get a fast pass for Toon Town even when you have to wait to get another fast pass for the rest of the park 
  4. Try to plan what rides you want to go on before you get to the park, but be flexible once you get there 
  5. Try to not follow the crowd 
  6. The Mother's room on Main Street is incredible, if you have a baby who is too social to eat or nurse in public, this is a great place to go.  It also has all the supplies you might have forgotten.  
  7. If you want your child to get into Jedi Training, BE LOUD, be there cheer squad! 
  8. For World of Color try to be closest to the fence that faces the water 
  9. All the buses, fire trucks, cars that travel down main street are for everyone!  They are a lot of fun for the kids, but if you are trying to get to somewhere quickly you will probably move faster walking.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Disneyland before you go

When travelling a trip to Disneyland, first rule, never pay full price.  You can find packages that give you deals on  hotels and tickets through places like Get Away Today Vacations.  You can go to Hotels directly, some have advanced purchase prices if you are planning you trip several months in advance.   You can find a convention to join and get discount tickets and hotel rooms through the convention.  You can even buy a citypass ( through Costco.  Or you can use a combination of the above sites to find the best deals on different aspects of your trip.  There are several ways to save.

Be aware that hotels right next to the park are usually more expensive and most do not have a complimentary breakfast, even chains that usually offer this elsewhere.   They will often charge a daily charge for parking and charge for things like access to the internet.  I often find a hotel that is farther away, in Fullerton, Garden Grove, Buena Park, or another surrounding city will be cheaper and include free parking and breakfast.  I like to find a hotel that either has a kitchen or breakfast.

The first time we took our children to Disneyland we found a great deal at a hotel across the street from Disneyland.  It did not offer breakfast and we had to pay for parking, but we figured it would save us from paying for parking at the park and how expensive could breakfast be?  Apparently very expensive.  For an adult breakfast in our hotel was $20, for a child it was $15, so for our family of 4 we would have spent $70 just for breakfast.  We went to Ihop, and found that Ihop in Anaheim was a lot more expensive than the Ihop 5 minutes from our house.  We looked at each other and our mouths fell open.  We bought the biggest breakfast on the menu and split it between our family.  After that we went to a store bought some cereal, granola bars, and fruit.  We bought milk every morning from the little store in the hotel and ate breakfast in our room.  From that point on we have looked farther away from the park, we figure we save by paying for parking at Disneyland if we are at a hotel that serves breakfast and gives us free parking.

Travelling to Disneyland it is essential to figure out how expensive airfare will be and compare that to the cost of gas and expense of driving.  We have found that the more children you have, even if we add hotel accommodations to and from Disneyland, gas prices, and food, it is still usually cheaper to drive to Disneyland.  We often can tack on other day trips, which provide entertainment for the family, to break up the monotony of a road trip and still save money on travel.

If driving just seems too much, then try to find cheaper ways to fly.  Look for specials, and book when you find a special in airfare, because that is a rare opportunity these days.  One way to save on airfare is to look at frequent flyer miles.  My husband has to travel a lot with his job and we use the miles he travels with work to buy plane tickets for the family.  If there is a grandparent or close friend that travels a lot, they might be willing to donate their miles to your travel as well.  Check out, and, or other airfare websites.

If travelling with children I like to buy a small item/gift for each day of travel.  I put these at the foot of their bed for when they wake up in the morning.  I like to get things like flip flops, sunglasses, goggles, and small toys.  I looked at what we were doing for the day, for example if we went swimming, I would put goggles at the foot of their beds.  I tried to anticipate what they would want and buying it helped me spend about 10% of what I would at Disneyland or some other vacation destination for a similar item.  Finding Disney items is fairly easy too.  I found that if I did this, my kids were not constantly saying, "I want," "Can I have that," or something along those lines.

If you want to eat at a nice restaurant in Disneyland or California Adventure it is a good idea is to make reservations at restaurants before you go.  Waiting until you are at the park to make a reservation will leave you with odd hours of eating.  If you want to make multiple reservations at multiple locations, the Winery, Ariel's Grotto, Goofy's Kitchen, or Blue Bayou, you can make them all at the same time through the same number.  Ariel's Grotto and Goofy's Kitchen have a lot of characters that come by and visit while you eat.  If you want to have a special dinner, then call ahead and make those reservations.

 We find an excellent way to plan our trip before we go is to use Ride Max (  This is even more essential if you are going at a high volume time.  We took our daughter to Disneyland for her 3rd birthday in the middle of July, we used Ride Max and were able to go to EVERY ride we wanted to, have less than a 15 minute wait for each ride, and take naps in the middle of the afternoon.  If you don't know what you are doing, or it is your first time going to Disneyland, make a schedule with Ride Max.  It is worth the money.  If you are a more seasoned Disney park visitor then make sure you have the app, MouseWait downloaded to your smart phone!

These are my essential tips for planning a successful trip before I ever leave my house, and it helps my Disney experience be as fun for me as for my kids.